As Junior Cycle Reform enters its fourth year of implementation, Beech Hill College has taken the decision to move to 1 hour lessons from September 2017 onwards. This decision is seen by the Principal, Mr Patrick McArdle, as essential to allow for new learning methodologies, such as group work and student based active learning to be facilitated. It will also allow for the key skills in the Junior Cycle to become embedded in how the school approaches learning and teaching.
Mr McArdle stated that the decision taken by Beech Hill College will place the school at the centre when it comes to leading the reforms in the Junior Cycle in Monaghan town. The school day will now operate on 6 lessons per day, with Wednesday being a shorter day of 4 lessons. This shorter day will be in operation in all post primary schools in Monaghan Town. The purpose of the shorter day is to allow for planning and meeting time which will enhance the learning of all of the students in the school.
He elaborated that with a maximum of 6 lessons per day the school will be moving to a more student centred approach. He said that it is envisaged that students will be more focused in school, would be better organised, would take responsibility for their own learning, have greater time to study at home due to a more structured homework schedule and would be ultimately less stressed. He hoped that it would also lead to a more positive atmosphere in the school with less disruption due to fewer class changes. Lessons in all subject areas would be more meaningful, with greater time for more inquiry based learning and peer-to-peer work which are the cornerstones of the new Junior Cycle.
Students are overwhelmingly in favour of the decision to move to 1 hr classes. When a group of 3rd years were asked they stated that they “will get more work done in class”. Niall a 3rd year student said that “36 minute classes are very rushed, by the time the teacher takes the register and teaches us something the bell is about to go, sometimes students may not be sure of the homework they have to do as they leave the classroom”. Thomas (a second year student) said with “6 periods per day our school bags will be lighter and we will only have to do homework in 6 subjects, this will mean more time to engage in other learning experiences” Kyle in second year also said “in a 1 hr class we will have more time to do group work and really get into the topic we are studying” Sean (a third year student) also said “I will be walking around the school a lot less because some days I have 9 classrooms to go to, next year I will only have 6!”
A Teacher’s comment
“I look forward to having one hour classes as it will mean less time pressure for all of us, within a 36 minute class period we take the roll, discuss homework given in the previous class and then rush through an extension to what we are learning. With more time per lesson we can use different methodologies that will engage our students in rich learning. These methodologies will help our students to develop their key skills such as managing information, communicating, being creative and above all strengthen their sense of wellbeing. Methodologies such as ‘think, pair, share’, ‘concept formation’, compare/contrast etc. can be very effective and additional time allows these to be part of a lesson.
Additional time will also allow for more quality feedback to our students on how their learning is progressing in a way that produces further learning and development. The quality of interaction will improve between teacher and student and of course between students themselves as a result of group work activities.
In my opinion this is an ideal time to make the move to one hour lessons as it will help us to fully embrace real Junior Cycle reform and also incorporate ‘instructional leadership’ approaches within our classes. All of these changes will allow us to really put the student at the centre of the learning experience.” Sean Mulholland, The Business Department, Beech Hill College.
Beech Hill College has fully embraced the new changes in the Junior Cycle and in 2017 there will be up to 3 Classroom Based Assessments taking place in second year subject areas. The school has also adopted the new reporting practices to parents by using the descriptors in school reports in the relevant subjects.
Instructional leadership methodologies are very much at the heart of the new reforms and the staff of Beech Hill College currently have up to six teachers trained in such practices. Mr. Mc Ardle stated that it was hoped another three members of staff would receive training from CMETB starting September 2017 and that this would further reinforce the schools commitment to improving the learning experiences of all of the students.